Burgess Shale Centenary: a hike to Walcott quarry

Burgess Shale Centenary: a hike to Walcott quarry

So I hiked up to the famous quarry itself on Saturday, on a day with remarkably clear blue skies and cool mountain air. It’s relatively strenuous – about 3 or 4 hours uphill, with a few steep sections, and then an unremitting 3 hours of knee-pounding downhill switchbacks. If you fancy seeing the quarry for yourself, you’ll need to sign up for a guided tour. The quarry is a national herritage site, so you can’t wander in there alone, nor can you take any fossils away with you. This was, of course, a source of great despair to the paleontologists on our hike, who found fossils (some relatively rare) and were forced to simply put them back on the ground and walk away.  Read more

Burgess Shale Centenary: Cambrian’s fiercest predator defanged

One presentation that stirred things up a bit suggested that Anomalocaris wasn’t the fierce predator it is usually portrayed as (see my news story here). This animal is almost always shown munching on a hard-shelled trilobite, but it seems that maybe it was incapable of such attacks. Opinion is still divided, but even Simon Conway Morris threw up a picture of a classic reproduction of Cambrian life during his talk, featuring an Anomalocaris gripping onto a trilobite, and quipped “so here we see an Anomalocaris putting a trilobite gently to bed…”. This was met with many chuckles – not, I think, because the idea of a gentler Anomalocaris is laughable, but simply because people don’t know quite how to respond to classic ideas about Cambrian life being overturned. If the ‘gentler’ image holds up, they’ll have to redraw all the Cambrian life pictures.  Read more